Questions for Cleaving

February 5, 2015 | 2 Comments

1. Much of our discussion in class touched on oversharing as it relates to the audience. Critics of Cleaving have suggested Powell has no audience in mind, and that the book is less a memoir and more one big overshare. Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?

2. Cleaving was published in 2009, and shocked some people with the descriptions of sex. With explicit and sometimes uncomfortable sex scenes on TV shows like Girls and bondage portrayed in Fifty Shades of Grey, does the sex in Cleaving continue to shock?

3. Similarly, Cleaving shocked some people with the descriptions of butchering and slaughter. Does the butchery still shock?

4. Which thread is more compelling-butchery, adultery, or travel? Why? Does Powell create connections between the three?

5. Powell writes about herself in fairly stark terms. What do you make of the difference between statements like “When it came right down to it, I got pretty much whatever I went after. Want. Take. Have. That was my simple motto.” (p. 9) or “Just call me Julie “Steamroller” Powell.” (p. 19) and statements like “I am more of a linger-at-the doorway-looking-cowed girl.” (p. 94) or “I’m a pretty obedient girl, as I’ve by now made clear…” (p. 135)?


ETA: For some reason, I thought we had to have 5 questions. Then I got home and re-read the assignment. Turns out I only needed 3. So. My apologies. Disregard whichever 2 questions you find least appealing.


2 Comments so far

  1. Melissa Boronkas on February 9, 2015 5:47 pm

    In response to question 4, for me the travel section was the most compelling as I found Julie more tolerable during that part of her journey. The butchery/adultery lead up was rooted in endless obsession, depression and mania that I had a hard time staying engaged with her words. By the time of her travels, she was able to work through some of her incessant thinking about D (mainly because he let her go and her phone failed to work in some international locales) and seemed a little more a peace. She gave more attention to her relationship with her husband and spent almost equal time writing letters to both men. In the absence of texting, her words became more thoughtful. There were pauses in her obsession. Additionally, the near sexual assault gave her clarity around her voice and the shame she had been carrying. She began to look at the root cause of her adultery vs. just the act of adultery. I saw just the hint of progress. Overall the travel section was like the punk rock version of Eat, Pray, Love. It was equally self-indulgent, but Powell was a little messier and a bit more unhinged.

    Powell does create connections between butchery and adultery. Hacking off animal limbs is akin to dissecting a relationship, methodically analyzing each word, action or movement. She describes the “seams” in meat as the binding that holds the animal together but easy to tear during the butchery process. I found the travel section to be out of place and while she attempted to draw connections between butchery and travel, it was less metaphorical and more about the physical things that represent butchery (slaughter, drinking blood, sausage). The one constant that appeared throughout the book were the recipes she used to tell her story through cooking/food.

  2. Patricia Wadsley on February 9, 2015 10:18 pm

    In answer to question 1, whether Cleaving is a memoir or one big Overshare, I agree with the critics. This book is an extremely lengthy overshare—and in following up our class discussion about the elements of oversharing, Cleaving has at least one crucial element of oversharing –the absolute insensitivity to and unawareness of audience. I think that if this piece of work reflected an awareness of audience, it would have had more style, more shaping, and more editing. I agree with a critic who said Powell must not have had enough time after the publication of Julie and Julia and this book to actually compose this book. I think that overshares also often distinguish themselves from memoirs in that oversharers –and particularly the oversharer Julie Powell– rarely are introspective or they most likely would not be oversharers. Introspection gives a memoir the resonance it needs, as feelings, restrospection and distance often give meaning to literature. One might additionally distinguish between an overshare and a memoir by saying that memoirs speak about events and people in a way that gives insight into the world, fleshing out the time period, the circumstances and giving idetitiy and definition to other people as well as the central character. D’s strongest identifying characteristic in Powell’s view is his “smirk.” Julie Powell is so focused on herself and her Want, Take philosophy, an omnivorous gobbler of other people she cannot give them any life. I do feel her liveliest and most authentic encounters are with meat, in Fleischers. But I feel that if one takes the book as a whole, she seems to hold back on the Fleischers folks, treating them too respectfully. Do these people have problems? Or just Julie? I believe she treats them this way because she feels they are still giving her something. Basically, the other people in her life may have nothing left to give, so she treats them accordingly. All in all, she is a terribly unreliable narrator, so focused on herself that the events going on around her cannot possibly be seen clearly. Finally, this tale leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.




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